Work­ers at Nis­san’s Mis­sis­sippi plant vot­ing on union­iza­tion

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM - JEFF AMY

CAN­TON, Miss. — Work­ers at Nis­san Mo­tor Co.’s Mis­sis­sippi assem­bly plant be­gan vot­ing Thurs­day to de­cide whether to be rep­re­sented by the United Auto Work­ers union.

The vot­ing by 3,700 assem­bly and main­te­nance work­ers be­gan be­fore dawn in­side the plant. The Na­tional La­bor Re­la­tions Board will ac­cept bal­lots through 7 p.m. to­day.

On one side are work­ers who say they need a union to give them a voice in their work­place, to pro­tect against ar­bi­trary treat­ment, and to bar­gain for bet­ter ben­e­fits and pay.

Other Nis­san em­ploy­ees re­ject the idea of a union speak­ing for them. They fear the union would be an eco­nomic al­ba­tross, bur­den­ing an em­ployer who pays them well.

Out­side an­a­lysts as­sume the union is an un­der­dog, since the United Auto Work­ers union has never fully or­ga­nized a for­eign-owned auto plant in the south­ern United States. But no one knows for sure.

“The vote will tell us the truth,” said Bo Green, a Nis­san worker who op­poses the union.

The union’s only foothold among these car­mak­ers in the South so far is a lo­cal rep­re­sent­ing main­te­nance work­ers at a Volk­swa­gen AG plant in Chat­tanooga, Tenn. But glob­ally, Nis­san’s Can­ton Ve­hi­cle Assem­bly Plant and two plants in Ten­nessee are the ex­cep­tions — ev­ery­where else in the world, the com­pany’s fac­to­ries have unions.

French politi­cians have been in­volved in the cam­paign­ing for the union, and crowd­ing into a meet­ing Tues­day night were actor

Danny Glover, a Brazil­ian union­ist and a Ja­panese jour­nal­ist.

About 6,400 peo­ple work for Nis­san and its sup­pli­ers in Can­ton, where Fron­tier and Ti­tan pick­ups, Mu­rano SUVs and NV vans are as­sem­bled. But only di­rect em­ploy­ees can vote. Ex­cluded are man­agers, engi­neers, cler­i­cal work­ers, guards, and hun­dreds of con­tract la­bor­ers who do the ex­act same work on the fac­tory floor.

Union sup­port­ers say the United Auto Work­ers union can pre­vent ar­bi­trary treat­ment by man­agers and em­power work­ers to bar­gain for bet­ter pay, work­ing con­di­tions and safety pro­tec­tions. They point to a worker in Mis­sis­sippi who lost sev­eral fin­gers on an assem­bly line, and an­other in Ten­nessee who was killed on the job.

For­eign au­tomak­ers came to these states in part to avoid unions and keep wages low. Mis­sis­sippi, for its part, granted the Ja­panese-based com­pany sub­si­dies and tax breaks that could be worth more than $1 bil­lion over 30 years.

When he was se­nate ma­jor­ity leader, Mis­sis­sippi Repub­li­can Trent Lott promised that Nis­san would “rev­o­lu­tion­ize” the state’s econ­omy, and Mis­sis­sippi’s busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers still mostly line up with Nis­san man­age­ment. Repub­li­can Gov. Phil Bryant calls the union’s sup­port­ers “so­cial­ists.”

“I don’t think we need a union to come in there and tell us how to make a bet­ter au­to­mo­bile,” Bryant said dur­ing a speech last week. “They can get back on the Bernie San­ders bus and go back to New York, and I’ll pay their way.”

San­ders, who is an in­de­pen­dent sen­a­tor from Ver­mont, and many of Mis­sis­sippi’s black politi­cians back the United Auto Work­ers, which spent years cul­ti­vat­ing min­is­ters and other lo­cal lead­ers. With the Can­ton plant’s ma­jor­ity black work­force in mind, the union has pro­moted his­toric ties be­tween the la­bor and civil rights move­ments. In re­sponse, Nis­san has sat­u­rated lo­cal tele­vi­sion with cam­paign-style ads and posted “vote no” signs along roads for miles around.

“It’s kind of bru­tal, the con­stant bom­bard­ment of ‘The [auto union] is the most ter­ri­ble thing ever,’” said union sup­porter Earnest Whit­field, who works with ma­chines that stamp steel into parts for the cars and trucks.

United Auto Work­ers Sec­re­tary-Trea­surer Gary Cas­teel ac­cuses Nis­san of break­ing fed­eral la­bor law by pres­sur­ing work­ers to vote “no,” and the NLRB has al­leged eight vi­o­la­tions of fed­eral law. Rod­ney Fran­cis, the plant’s hu­man re­sources di­rec­tor, said Mon­day that Nis­san is merely try­ing to dis­pel the union’s “false prom­ises.”

AP/RO­GE­LIO SO­LIS

United Auto Work­ers rep­re­sen­ta­tives set up out­side an em­ployee en­trance at the Nis­san ve­hi­cle assem­bly plant in Can­ton, Miss., on Tues­day. Work­ers be­gan vot­ing Thurs­day on whether to join the union.

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